WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday held out hope for a "big step" in negotiations with North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
Pompeo made the remark at a Cabinet meeting led by U.S. President Donald Trump as rumors swirl of another impending visit by the top American diplomat to Pyongyang.
"So we're now many months with no additional missile tests. Many months with no additional nuclear testing from the North Koreans," Pompeo said when asked by Trump to provide an update on the North.
The secretary also noted North Korea's recent return of 55 boxes of the remains of presumed American soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, a commitment North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made to Trump at their June summit in Singapore.
"We're continuing to engage in conversation with them about a path forward to a brighter future for the North Koreans," he said. "So continuing to make progress and hoping that we can make a big step here before too long."
Pompeo last traveled to Pyongyang last month to flesh out the Trump-Kim agreement, which called for the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for unspecified security guarantees from the U.S.
Negotiations have reportedly been deadlocked over the "sequencing" of steps each side must take, with the U.S. demanding a full inventory of North Korea's nuclear arsenal and the North countering with calls for a formal declaration of the end of the Korean War.
The three-year conflict in which the U.S. fought alongside the South ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the sides technically at war.
Trump said the U.S.-North Korea relationship "seems very good," but again he accused China of trying to block progress in retaliation for his administration's tough stance on trade.
"I think it's probably hurt a little bit by China because China isn't really happy with what I'm doing on trade, but we have no other choice as a country," the president said.
"It was -- the money that was being drained out of our country and going to China. We rebuilt China," he added. "Five-hundred billion dollars a year, for years and years and years. And we had to do something about that. They understand that."
China is North Korea's only major ally and responsible for about 90 percent of the reclusive nation's trade. Beijing's enforcement of United Nations sanctions on Pyongyang is seen as critical to international efforts to maintain pressure on Pyongyang to denuclearize.
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